With the mega-merger of the Marriott, Starwood and Ritz-Carlton hotel groups taking shape, the next big milestone will be the launch of a new unified loyalty program for the conglomerate in August.

The current Starwood and Ritz-Carlton loyalty programs will disappear, effectively to be absorbed by Marriott. The unified program will be given a new name in early 2019, but the program changes will start to take effect from an as-yet unspecified date this August.

Starwood has been a points transfer partner for the American Express Membership Rewards program. A number of popular Amex cards earn Membership Rewards points, including the Essential, Explorer, Platinum¬†and Business Explorer cards I’ve reviewed on the blog.

Amex has confirmed that Membership Rewards points will be transferable to the new unified Marriott program from August. However, the bad news is that the transfer rate will be less generous than the current one.

From August (date TBC), 3 Membership Rewards points will be convertible to 2 Marriott points. Right now, the rate is 2 MR points to 1 Starwood point (which equals 3 Marriott points). So, we’re going from a 2:3 rate to a 3:2 rate – that’s a big difference.

If you were planning to use Membership Rewards points for Starwood / Marriott stays, you may want to transfer points to Starwood now at the more attractive rate. From Starwood, you can manually transfer the points to Marriott yourself, otherwise they will transfer automatically when the new program launches in August.

A few days ago, I wrote about an opportunity to get steep discounts on luxury hotel stays thanks to a quirk of how the new program is being implemented. You may also want to consider purchasing Starwood points right now, because a 35% discount is available (this offer ends on 20 July and you must have been a Starwood member for at least 14 days).

Finally, if you hold the Amex Platinum Card, the current benefit of automatic gold status with Starwood will transition to the new Gold Elite tier with Marriott. That’s a downgrade, because you’ll lose complimentary breakfasts and guaranteed 4pm checkout (instead, you get a 2pm checkout “based on availability”.)

We’ll have more news about the changes – including the exact date they take effect – later this month.

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